Speech in Council debate on an item of Attendance, Absence and Exclusion

Laurie Bidwell, Labour spokesperson on Education in Dundee


23 August 2016

During my secondary school days one of my teacher’s, Mr Waddington, had a number of phrases that he used when he was calming the classroom. One of these was “lost time is never found again”.

Of course when he was urging his pupils on he was referring to lost time in the classroom from inattentiveness.

But today, our report before us is telling us about lost time and how we are working to reduce that in our schools in relation to reducing exclusions and improving attendance.

I am already on record in the press in positively responding to the trend in the reduction of exclusions.

While these have reduced considerably I am sure you as well as other members with the Committee along with me are concerned that the ratio of looked after children and their exclusion rate compared with the exclusion rate of the remainder of the pupils.

That ratio 5:1 in 2014/15 and 6.5:1 2015/16 is getting worse.

I think we need some more detailed answers about how we are going to respond to this holistically within the Children and Families' Service.

I think when we dig deeper we would see what we might refer to as the exclusion gap is also similar to the attainment gap and should be seen as part of the attainment challenge.

My second concern is about lateness.

If we are concerned about days lost through not attending school or being excluded from school then surely we should also be concerned about reducing lateness at the start of the school session in the morning and afternoon.

I think we need to know more about the magnitude of the lateness gap and how we are working to reduce that because clearly if you are persistently late to school or to a specific lesson or you miss time through absence or exclusion, this puts additional burdens on the class teacher when the pupil turns up or returns to school.

Time utilised helping one pupil catch up is clearly time that is not available to other pupils in the classroom.

Finally, in relation to managing exclusions, I think the Committee and the wider public of parents and carers needs reassurance, based on evidence, that reductions in exclusions are not at the expense of learning by the majority of pupils in the classrooms.

One of the former directors of Education in my time with the Council advocated “Zero Tolerance” to disruptions in the classroom, which was very popular with parents and carers who were concerned about disruption in the classroom.

For these reasons Convener, I am happy to note the progress that is recorded in the report before us tonight but I have also proposed in my amendment three measures which I think will enhance the reports before this committee in future.